Bell v. Boeing Co.

Decision Date20 April 2022
Docket NumberCASE NO. 20-CV-01716-LK
Parties Andrew BELL and Becky Bell, husband and wife, Plaintiffs, v. The BOEING COMPANY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Washington

Jay Roderik Stephens, The Stephens Law Firm, Puyallup, WA, for Plaintiffs.

Julie S. Lucht, Margo Jasukaitis, Tyrone Ray Ivey, Perkins Coie, Seattle, WA, for Defendant.


Lauren King, United States District Judge

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Boeing Company's Motion for Summary Judgment; Plaintiff Andrew Bell's Motion for Summary Judgment; and the parties’ responsive pleadings related to these motions. See Dkt. Nos. 17, 23, 33, 36, 42, 43, 47, 49. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Boeing's Motion for Summary Judgment and denies Bell's Motion for Summary Judgment.


The facts of this case are lengthy, but the legal issues are simple. Boeing hired Andrew Bell for a second shift position in Auburn, Washington. Bell, who lived in North Carolina at the time of acceptance, packed his bags and headed to Washington. Shortly after Bell reported to work, however, Boeing notified him of its intention to transfer him to third shift (i.e., the graveyard shift). Bell protested this shift change and requested a reasonable accommodation for an unspecified and undiagnosed sleep disorder. Although Boeing initially accommodated this disability for 30 days, it thereafter placed Bell on unpaid medical leave. Bell meanwhile failed to supply sufficient medical documentation to secure a permanent restriction exempting him from third shift. And, following a protracted medical leave of absence, Bell ceased providing the medical documentation necessary to continue short-term disability benefits. Boeing then terminated Bell for job abandonment.

The Beginning: Boeing's Contingent Offer Letter

Sometime in late Summer 2017, a Boeing recruiter contacted Bell about a job opportunity. Bell says that he made clear to Boeing's recruiter that he could not and would not work a third shift position. Dkt. No. 23 at 3; Dkt. No. 24-1 at 9–10, 13–14. Although he did not have a medically diagnosed sleep disorder at the time, Bell believed that he had a "problem" because he had previously fallen asleep during nightshifts.1 Dkt. No. 18-1 at 10-12, 58–59. See id. at 11 ("[I]t's not like, oh, I'm getting sleepy, I'm going to—you're just—you're just out[.]"); Dkt. No. 24-1 at 10 ("I totally explained to her, you know, I fall asleep. Something happens 2:00, 3:00, I'm out. I can't work that anymore."). It does not appear that Bell explained why he required a non-graveyard shift to the recruiter. According to Bell, the recruiter assured him that the position was for second shift. And, in November 2017, Bell accepted a contingent offer of employment with Boeing for the "union-represented position of Machine Repair Mechanic A" located in Auburn, Washington. Dkt. No. 18-1 at 70, 125–26.2

Relevant here are three provisions in Boeing's contingent offer letter. First, the letter indicated that Bell would be working the second shift. Dkt. No. 18-1 at 70. Second, it notified Bell that the position was "covered by a Collective Bargaining Unit Agreement" (the "CBA"). Id. at 73. The letter did not specify or otherwise identify which CBA "covered" the position.3 Nor did it include a copy of the referenced CBA or re-print any terms of that CBA. Instead, the letter informed Bell that he would be provided with "[a]dditional information ... at time of hire" or "shortly after" he began his assignment. Id. Boeing did not provide Bell with a copy of the 308-page CBA until his orientation. Id. at 33–34. He never asked for a copy prior to that, either. Id. Section 5.4 of the CBA vests Boeing with the "exclusive right to assign employees to any shift." Id. at 35–36, 180. This section further directs that "senior employees who have a shift preference on file shall be given preference over junior employees who are assigned to the same job title and shift, junior returning non-bargaining unit employees, new hires , recalls from layoff, and promotional candidates for placement in openings in their job title and organization." Id. at 180 (emphasis added).

The third and final relevant provision of Boeing's offer letter informed Bell that relocation assistance had been authorized in accordance with Boeing's US Domestic Production and Maintenance Relocation Handbook. Id. at 70, 129–162. The Handbook specifies that employees are eligible for relocation benefits only upon execution of the Relocation Repayment Agreement. Id. at 138. An employee who accepts relocation benefits and then "voluntarily terminates employment or is terminated for cause within a one (1) year period will be required to refund all of the monies spent by [Boeing], including tax gross-up." Id. Bell, who was living in North Carolina at the time of acceptance, executed a Repayment Agreement Form. Id. at 49–51, 164; Dkt. No. 23 at 3, 5. That contract echoes the Handbook's repayment conditions. Bell agreed to repay Boeing "all lump sum payments, reimbursements, recurring allowances, third party payments, and any tax gross-up amounts for Relocation Expenses" if, within twelve months of the effective date of his hire, he was "involuntarily terminated for a reason other than a reduction in work force." Dkt. No. 18-1 at 169; see also id. at 52. Bell thereafter amassed nearly $20,000 in relocation expenses. Id. at 166–68; Dkt. No. 17 at 11; Dkt. No. 24-1 at 17–18.

Bell Reports for Work, Trouble Brews

Although Bell accepted Boeing's offer in November 2017, he did not start his new job until April 20, 2018.4 Dkt. No. 17 at 11–12; Dkt. No. 23 at 5. Bell spent a week in new-hire orientation before working his first shift as a Machine Repair Mechanic in the Emergent Operations - Equipment Services workgroup. Dkt. No. 17 at 12; Dkt. No. 23 at 5. There, and for the duration of Bell's employment at Boeing, James Watterson was his direct supervisor. Dkt. No. 17 at 12. Bell's time on second shift was short-lived. Although the record is unclear as to the precise timing, around mid-April 2018 the Equipment Services workgroup underwent a "staffing review," following which Boeing management determined that too many employees—particularly machine repair mechanics—had been assigned to first and second shift. Id. ; Dkt. No. 44-1 at 4 ("I think we're getting ready to pull the trigger on shift transfers"; "[t]he two new mechanics arrive on 4/20 and will report to second shift on 4/23."). Management soon "identified" Bell and another new hire for reassignment to third shift in accordance with the terms of the CBA. Dkt. No. 17 at 13. See Dkt. No. 18-1 at 180 ("[S]enior employees ... shall be given preference over ... new hires[.]"); Dkt. No. 17 at 12 ("[W]hen second shift is overstaffed, and third shift is understaffed, Boeing must reassign employees from second shift to third shift according to who has the least seniority[.]").

Bell caught wind of these impending changes on the first day of the job. Dkt. No. 24-1 at 19–21. Soon thereafter he approached Watterson, who more or less confirmed the rumors and indicated that management would probably "push" Bell to third shift. Id. at 22. Bell protested the reassignment by informing Watterson that he could not "work third" because he had a medical condition and was specifically hired for second shift. Id. at 22, 24; Dkt. No. 23 at 6. Watterson responded by referencing Boeing's rights under the CBA. Dkt. No. 24-1 at 22. Bell then turned to Human Resources. Dkt. No. 24-1 at 24–25; Dkt. No. 23 at 6.

Human Resources, Boeing Medical, and Bell's Accommodation Request

On May 15, 2018, Bell met with Human Resources Representative Kaitlyn Parsons, during which he emphasized the terms of Boeing's offer letter and reasserted his inability to work third shift. Dkt. No. 24-1 at 25; Dkt. No. 23 at 6. Parsons indicated that she was going to "get people together" to figure out the situation. Dkt. No. 24-1 at 27–28. She also contacted the recruiter who worked with Bell to confirm that Boeing offered Bell a second shift position. Id. at 26–27; Dkt. No. 23 at 6. Bell was instructed to go to Boeing Medical if he wanted to request accommodation for a medical condition. Dkt. No. 24-1 at 28; see also Dkt. No. 17 at 13. Bell visited Boeing's Auburn Medical Clinic, where the facility nurse informed him that he would need a doctor's note to seek a disability accommodation. Dkt. No. 23 at 6; Dkt. No. 24-1 at 28.

On May 31, 2018, Bell saw Dr. Aleksandra Kardasheva at the Virginia Mason Medical Center. Dkt. No. 18-1 at 183; Dkt. No. 23 at 6. The same day, Dr. Kardasheva produced a note in which she asked that Bell be excused from working the third shift "[d]ue to a medical reason[.]" Dkt. No. 18-1 at 183. The note does not otherwise specify a medical condition or proffer a diagnosis, but states that Bell was "medically cleared to work first and second shift." Id . On June 7, 2018, Bell returned to the Auburn Medical Clinic and completed Boeing's Reasonable Accommodation and Health Care Provider Information Form. Dkt. No. 18-1 at 185–86. On that form, Bell characterized his "limitation" as "fall[ing] asleep after 2:00 AM" and requested that Boeing accommodate it by assigning him only to first or second shift. Dkt. No. 18-1 at 185. Bell also authorized Boeing Health Services to contact his health care provider "in order to authenticate and clarify any information provided for the purposes of evaluating [his] request for reasonable accommodation." Id. at 186.

On June 8, 2018, Boeing Medical faxed a copy of the signed authorization form to Dr. Kardasheva to complete the health care provider portion. Dkt. No. 17 at 13; Dkt. No. 19-1 at 25. Dr. Kardasheva completed and returned the form to Boeing on June 21, 2018. Dkt. No. 19-1 at...

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